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Doctors Often Hide Or Do Not Disclose Medical Mistakes

Have you received bad news or less than positive news after seeing a doctor, physician or surgeon and were left wondering what went wrong? Chances are, the health care professional involved won't tell you exactly what happened, particularly if he or she made a medical mistake in caring for you or a loved one.

According to a survey by researchers at Harvard Medical School, 34 percent of doctors reported that they do not feel the need to tell patients if a significant medical error occurred. Twenty percent of responding doctors noted that they had  in fact withheld information about a mistake from a patient to protect themselves from a medical malpractice claim. Another 11 percent admitted to actually lying to a patient, a parent or guardian about a medical mistake.

In a follow-up survey requested by MSNBC, twenty-one of the 100 doctors surveyed, including family practice physicians, cardiologists and neurosurgeons, admitted to keeping a medical mistake a secret from a patient and his or her family. The neurosurgeons and cardiologists polled had a much higher percentage of withheld mistakes than did family practitioners.

The Harvard survey questioned 1,900 medical professionals from a variety of specialties. Over half of the physicians surveyed admitted to giving a patient a more positive prognosis than their condition warranted, citing reasons like not wanting a patient to lose hope or to become upset about their condition. Another 28 percent admitted to breaking physician-patient confidentiality rules by sharing private medical information with an unauthorized person.

Interestingly, the survey found that honesty and openness in communications with patients were more important to women and minority doctors than to white male physicians.

Source: MSNBC, "Many docs tell white lies, study finds"


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